Franciscans Support COP21’s Efforts to Address Climate Change

Jocelyn Thomas Franciscan World

General Minister Michael Perry speaks to Franciscan delegates at COP 21 in Paris. (Photo courtesy of the Franciscan Action Network)

General Minister Michael Perry speaks to Franciscan delegates at COP 21 in Paris. (Photo courtesy of the Franciscan Action Network)

When world leaders gathered in Paris this month for two weeks of discussions about reducing manmade causes of climate change, Franciscans showed their support. Some went to Paris to participate in the global summit and others expressed their concern for the earth and humanity through local initiatives.

At the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21, representatives from close to 200 nations reached a landmark accord that will, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the most drastic effects of climate change.

“Paris is the springboard for further action,” said Russ Testa, director of the HNP Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. “The climate talks represent an opportunity for the world, and the U.S. as a part of it, to take Pope Francis’ invitation to ‘safeguard our common home.’ Now the real work begins to not only keep the commitments made by the U.S. and other nations but to build upon them.”

Joining Voices Abroad and At Home
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., of Boston, was among those who added their names to the Catholic Climate Petition presented to world leaders at the summit. On his blog, Cardinal O’Malley said that the Franciscan friars in Boston “brought this important initiative” to his attention. John Aherne, OFM, said that director Thomas Conway, OFM, the Shrine’s director, was “instrumental in this effort.”

The petition — sponsored by the group Global Catholic Climate Movement, headquartered at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston — was launched in April and has been endorsed by Pope Francis, and more than 20 other bishops around the world, according to The Boston Pilot.

During the Paris conference, which took place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, General Minister Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, joined a group of nearly 200 Franciscans for “A Day of Celebration” on Dec. 5 to highlight the importance of caring for creation. In a reflection given that morning, Fr. Michael emphasized significant parts of “Laudato Si’,” the 2015 encyclical written by Pope Francis.

Throughout the two weeks of the conference, Franciscans listened to presentations and discussions and, both in Paris and at home, discussed the need for action.

“Our friars and partners-in-ministry have been talking about the importance of ‘Laudato Si” since it was released in June,” Testa said. “Our office is in touch with HNP ministries about how they are communicating the importance of caring for creation and about how they are making their physical plants more green.”

Franciscan Action Network staff member Jason Miller, who attended the second week of COP 21, said, “it was quite an overwhelming but rewarding experience.” In an entry posted on Acting Franciscan, FAN’s blog, Miller said the agreement reached in Paris is “not the end but rather just another step in the road of ensuring that God’s creation is inhabitable for future generations. We must act now to reverse the devastating effects of climate change and the COP21 agreement is another step in that right direction.”

In a recent post on The Hill, Patrick Carolan, FAN’s executive director, said “Climate change offers a test of our moral imagination, our capacity to feel the suffering of far-off people and future generations. We must act, but we may never see the faces of those who benefit from our action. By that measure, the Paris accord on climate change stands as a testament to our shared humanity. Nearly 200 nations — friend and foe, ally and adversary — pledged to do their fair share to rein in dangerous carbon pollution and to be held accountable for their progress. Our success, however, is not guaranteed.” Patrick was honored this summer for his environmental efforts.

Demonstrating for Reform
Several Franciscan groups participated in marches in conjunction with the Global Climate March, sponsored by the GCCM, going on around the world.

Two members of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, N.Y. — Sisters Gloria Oehl, OSF, and Kathie Uhler, OSF — participated in the Nov. 29 New York City Global Climate March. According to the community’s recent newsletter, “There were three large banners carried by some Catholic marchers with quotes from Pope Francis’ encyclical, ‘Laudato Si’.’ Sisters of various congregations, as well as Franciscans from several parts of the family, were involved, along with thousands of others. The Global Climate March was part of a worldwide movement organized by climate groups and activists who wanted to show world leaders and delegates attending the Paris Climate Summit that they were paying attention.” The homepage of the Allegany Sisters’ website shows a pledge of support for the agreement reached on Dec. 12.

In Boston, hundreds participated in a march on Nov. 29, and on Dec. 7, many gathered in nearby Lexington for an interfaith prayer vigil to pray for courage and wisdom for the world leaders to take bold steps to address climate change and for a strong treaty to emerge from the climate summit.

On Dec. 12, the day after the global climate negotiations were set to conclude, hundreds gathered in lower Manhattan to call for government officials to take action against global warming. The Franciscan Response to Fracking group “joined in taking this stand in red before Lady Liberty to signal the unprecedented human crisis of climate change,” said Jackie Schramm, a staff member of St. Mary’s Parish in Pompton Lakes, N.J. “We are already standing in the danger zone — it is not out there somewhere on the horizon. In the words of Pope Francis, if we as nations, fresh from the Paris Climate Summit, do not engage in ‘a bold cultural revolution’ now, and unite in word and action, ‘we are at the limits of suicide.’”

To inform people about the outcome of the historic climate change summit, the Franciscan Action Network, in conjunction with the Order’s JPIC Office, has offered two webinars. Their content can be found on FAN’s website.

Additional information about events and people supporting climate change advocacy as well as other current issues can be found in the Holy Name Province JPIC Facebook group.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

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